Back in the 1920s, when Time magazine founder Henry Luce and his partners were coming up with the concept for their new media venture, the idea was to sum up all the news of human interest across politics, science, books, sports, and more, with articles no longer than 200 words in order to “serve the illiterate upper classes, the busy business man, the tired debutante, to prepare them at least once a week for a table conversation.”
A century later, Luce’s approach is being adapted for the podcast age on a daily basis. As podcasting continues to grow at an impressive rate—with the number of people listening having doubled since 2015 to 90 million—one of the fastest growing segments is in daily podcasts. The New York Times‘s aptly named The Daily boasts 2 million listeners everyday, with a staff of 17, up from four since it began in early 2017. Other popular daily news wrap-up podcasts include NPR’s Up First, ABC Radio’s The Signal, and The Journal from the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian‘s Today in Focus now boasts a daily audience bigger than its print newspaper readership.
Within the daily news podcast category, another emerging focus is pods aimed directly at your commute, which according to the U.S. Census has ticked up to more than 27 minutes. While The Daily and many of its major media compatriots focus on one or a few stories that each organization’s reporters have been working on, perhaps the more interesting subgenre is the commute-friendly podcast designed to be an all-around catchup around a particular topic.
One of the best examples is Brian McCullough’s Techmeme Ride Home, a 15- to 20-minute tour through the day’s biggest tech news, which posts about 5 p.m. ET every day. Since launching in March 2018, McCullough has attracted an audience that spans the most connected of tech insiders to casual observers. It’s done well enough that now he and his partner at Ride Home Media, James Welsh, aim to take the commute-friendly, catchup model to every and any type of news niche there is.
“When I launched the Techmeme show, we could’ve called it the Techmeme Podcast or the Techmeme Daily, but I called it the Ride Home because I had this idea from the very beginning that if this worked in one interest area, then in theory it should work in others,” says McCullough, a serial tech entrepreneur who first developed a following as a podcaster with his internet oral-history project. The expansion into Ride Home Media began back in April with Election Ride Home, a daily pod about all things leading up to the 2020 U.S. election, hosted by Chris Higgins, a writer and filmmaker whose credits include This American Life and The Atlantic.
Today McCullough is launching Celeb News Ride Home, in which host Cait Raft will keep listeners up-to-date on all the, you guessed it, celebrity news of the day. Raft, like McCullough and Higgins, is an accomplished creator. She recaps Keeping Up with the Kardashians for Us Magazine; cohosts the Twitch morning show JackAM and the podcast This Podcast Is Self Care; and writes and performs sketches as well as writes for the animated series Unikitty. “I’m so excited to be launching this podcast with Ride Home,” says Raft. “I’m shocked that a lifetime of filling my brain with useless facts about celebrities ended up being an actually productive thing to do.”
The company also took on a $1 million investment from Tiny Capital, to help in its content expansion. “There are a thousand interesting niches where people are forced to hand-curate their media lives to stay informed: following folks on Twitter and Instagram, reading blogs and subreddits, YouTube channels and spending hours anxiety scrolling,” Tiny Capital’s Andrew Wilkinson wrote in a Medium post about the investment. “Podcasting is an amazing format to anoint professional catch-me-uppers to serve not only as trusted authorities in a given space, but also as friendly daily voices to keep you up-to-date on the topics you’re passionate about.”
McCullough knows Ride Home doesn’t know everything about everything, so the company is putting out a call for potential creative partners to make podcasts for almost any news niche. The partnership model he’s proposing is a bit like a podcast franchise. Ride Home Media pays the producers and hosts a production fee, then has a revenue share on top of that, so the talent participates in all of the upside of any show. “I’m used to working in Hollywood where everything works so slow and you’re paid as little as possible and expected to adhere to rounds and rounds of notes,” says Raft. “With Ride Home, I’ve gotten so much creative freedom and trust. It’s so refreshing that it’s all come together so quickly and easily.”
Specialized daily news podcasts targeted to your commute are rapidly becoming a thing—from Ride Home to the financial-focused branded podcast Snacks Daily from the trading app Robinhood to the very specific Tesla Daily by an investor and superfan. McCullough, though, is betting that applying lessons from the internet—there seems to be no end to the amount of information people want on the topics and interests they have—to your commute routine is the best route to success.
“There are a lot of daily podcasts launching, but I think people are kind of missing the forest for the trees here in that, the trend isn’t just dailies, it’s the concept of catch-me-up,” says McCullough, who hopes to add podcasts devoted to sports and even local city news. “We’re hoping to be the purest distillation of that, and then blow it out for just about anything you could imagine. We could be doing a Gardening Ride Home one day. As long as there’s enough news in the space. There’s almost no Ride Home we wouldn’t consider.”